355 posts categorized "Education"

Charter schools have contributed to education equality and saved lives

February 22, 2021

Kids_amber_chaarterFor African Americans, learning and knowledge has been — and continues to be — the drumline of survival and success.

Enslaved black families knew this. It's why they risked severe punishment by breaking laws that forbid them learning how to read and write. The opening of black colleges and universities after the Civil War signaled that those dark ages were over, but education equality was still little more than a dream.

But much progress has been made, albeit slowly and in stages. It has come thanks to a series of landmark U.S. court cases related to equality of opportunity in K-12 education as well as self-help movements like the citizenship schools of the 1950s, the freedom schools of the '60s, on through to charter schools today.

Surprised to see charter schools in that list? You shouldn't be. Though not exclusively African American, charter schools have been tremendously successful in helping minority students get a quality education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, these schools enroll higher percentages of minority and low-income students than traditional schools. And they've been doing that for nearly three decades.

In 1992, City Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, became the nation's first publicly funded, privately run charter school. Its founders set out to pioneer a new way of teaching students who encountered the harsh impact of drug abuse, jail, or even homelessness.

Out of desolation, the founders of City Academy created opportunities for their students. The small school's rigorous instruction and caring teachers have gone on to inspire education activists nationwide to follow its example. Today, there are 7,200 charter schools in 44 states and Washington, D.C.

These schools are not only giving kids an education. In many cases, they are literally saving lives. Education analyst Corey A. DeAngelis reports that winning a lottery to attend a charter school in New York City reduced the likelihood of incarceration for male students by 100 percent. The study also found that female charter school students were 59 percent less likely to experience teen pregnancy.

It's not that these schools are daily preaching "stay out of jail and avoid teen pregnancy." But those self-destructive behaviors don't seem to flourish in schools rooted in a vision of achieving excellence and writing a legacy of purpose.

Tyal Prince agrees. After leaving his district school disappointed and disillusioned, Prince attended Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School. He went on to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, he is employed by DataBank and is responsible for multi-million dollar contracts in the areas of cloud computing and other technology services.

Prince has also become a community leader, working with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program and the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. Most importantly, he celebrates life as a family man and a first-time dad.

Prince attributes his success to Lincoln Park. "Going to a charter school saved my life," he says. "That's why I'm trying to make sure that I can get my little brother into a charter school for high school as well."

But what Prince found at Lincoln Park is not available to millions of his African American brothers and sisters — especially those in our largest cities. Too often, they find themselves consigned to public schools mired in a defeatist vision of low-expectations, victimhood, and resignation.

Children, no matter where they live, should not be relegated to that kind of non-productive, non-learning environment. They deserve options — and charter schools have proven to be an attractive and productive option.

Just ask Lenny McAllister, a champion for education equality and civil rights, now serving as CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. The coalition encompasses well over a hundred brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools throughout the Keystone State. Of the 169,000 students enrolled in those schools this year, roughly 70 percent are students of color and approximately two-thirds are eligible for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program.

McAllister sees charter schools as "school choice within public education," and notes that parents of children enrolled in a charter school, regardless of their economic circumstances, are afforded "self-determination in education, the same self-determination that we celebrate each Fourth of July in our Declaration of Independence."

I couldn't agree more.

Headshot_Angela_SailorAngela Sailor is a vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation.

A Q&A With Jaime Merisotis, President and CEO, Lumina Foundation

January 26, 2021

Jamie Merisotis is a globally recognized leader in philanthropy, education, and public policy. Since 2008, he has served as  president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, an independent private foundation that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. He previously served as co-founder and president of the nonpartisan Institute for Higher Education Policy and as executive director of a bipartisan national commission on college affordability appointed by the U.S. president and congressional leaders.

A frequent media commentator and contributor, Merisotis is the author of America Needs Talent: Attracting, Educating & Deploying the 21st-Century Workforce, which was named a Top 10 Business Book of 2016 by Booklist, and the recently published Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines. The Q&A is reprinted here with the permission of Lumina.

Headshot_jaime_merisotisQ: Since March, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, bringing the United States' unemployment rate to its highest point since the Great Depression. The near-term pain is obvious, but how will this seismic economic event influence the workforce a generation from now?

Jaime Merisotis: Millions of people are now working remotely. Schools have shifted to online courses, leading to millions of students learning in what was once considered a peripheral method of education. While workplaces, schools, and colleges will eventually reopen, the idea that it is normal to "go" to work or school has likely changed forever. This shift away from brick-and-mortar spaces has a bright side that we should be ready to take advantage of, especially because online learning opens doors to many of today's students, who are more likely to be minorities, working full time, and caring for family members. In [Human Work], I wrote about Marcia McCallum, a single mother of four who went back to school to earn two associate degrees at a community college nearly thirty years after finishing high school. Online learning allowed her to juggle school, work, and family. Now McCallum doesn't have to do double-shifts waiting tables on the weekends. Instead, she works full-time for a biotech company growing cell cultures that are harvested for therapeutic antibodies. This is an example of how we can take advantage of this massive shift in the way we perceive school and work to serve everyone, not just those who can afford — financially or in terms of time — to get an education.

Q: What weaknesses in education systems and workforce training systems has the economic crisis highlighted and exacerbated?

JM: During the pandemic, we've seen that people who can work remotely are less likely to lose their jobs, and that the ability to work remotely is closely associated with education levels. Even before COVID-19 really hit, in April, unemployment for workers without a high school diploma had risen to 6.8 percent. But among those with at least a bachelor's degree, the unemployment rate was just 2.5 percent. That doesn't tell the whole story. Fifty-four percent of people with master's or doctoral degrees can work remotely; the share of people who can work at home drops to 39 percent for workers with bachelor's degrees. For workers who don't have at least a bachelor's, the number bottoms out at 20 percent. The lesson we should draw is that higher levels of education — and the skills and attributes they help people develop, including the ability to communicate, motivate themselves, and work in teams — prepare workers to adapt to the changes in the workplace, today and in the future.

Q: What should the U.S. government be doing right now to help people develop the capacity for human work?

JM: It has never been more important for the federal government and states to be aligned on these issues. States have an especially big hill to climb, because more than forty states and the District of Columbia require balanced budgets. To balance them, states have two major levers: massive layoffs of state employees or raising taxes. Programmatic cuts, by themselves, won't be enough. More important, given the forty-plus million Americans who filed for unemployment because of shutdowns related to the pandemic, the political consequences will be enormous. I don't see any reasonable path forward without a massive infusion of federal dollars to states. And that massive federal infusion cannot be used simply to prop up the "existing system." That system has failed too many Americans for too long. That was the mistake of the last recession: most of the dollars the feds gave states were used to prop up underperforming systems. This time, we should invest massively in generating real results. This includes big investments in community colleges that award associate degrees and short-term credentials for the people in retail, hospitality, and other heavily impacted industries, because many of those jobs will not return. Any additional federal stimulus efforts also should focus on the human work skills that will be necessary for success in the new economy. And these investments must focus on the economic needs of workers and the growing racial disparities highlighted by the spread of the coronavirus. The policy options that are weighed cannot be a "return to normal" because we know "normal" for most of the world is not something people want — they want and deserve much better.

Q: In Human Work, you suggest the need for a large-scale rethink of higher learning and workforce-training programs. Can this crisis force us to be bolder? Are there changes you support that are likely to be adopted after the crisis is over?

JM: I fear many still believe the end of the crisis will bring a return to "normal." But for our systems of learning and preparing people for work, returning to the old normal would be disastrous. People will need new skills, new ways of engaging with their communities, and new ways of relating to one another. The crisis clarifies that we need to make opportunities for work-relevant learning available to every American, regardless of wealth, race, age, or geographic location.

Some colleges are already reinventing themselves to meet the needs of a new generation of students. In the book, I wrote about Amarillo College in the Texas Panhandle. Ten years ago, the college had a graduation rate of 9 percent. Russell Lowery-Hart, now the president of the college, discovered that issues such as child care and transportation were the biggest hurdles for students, so he set up a series of "wraparound" support services to meet students' needs in non-academic areas. Today, the completion rate at Amarillo is 52 percent. Lowery-Hart's most important insight was that colleges have to address students" life circumstances; it's an especially important lesson as the tumult of the last year upends students' academic pursuits.

Q: You write about "learning, learning, and serving" throughout the book and, in places, offer an almost spiritual take on the dignity of work. Can you explain why continuous learning is so integral to developing meaningful human work?

JM: We live in a complex world. It's not just that employment requirements are changing in ways that demand higher levels of thinking and skill. The knowledge, skills, and abilities people need to develop also are needed to help address the issues we face as a society and the problems we see in our communities. The only way to meet this challenge is through continuous learning on a vast scale. Fortunately, we are hard-wired to learn, just as we are to work and serve. I found a great example of one such "learning organization" in what many might consider an unlikely place: state government. For the past decade, the state government in Tennessee, which employs forty-two thousand workers, making it the largest public employer in the state, has made a huge commitment to offering learning and training opportunities to its employees. But instead of doing one-day job fairs, the state created twenty-eight different state leadership academies, ranging from management training to programs designed to groom younger employees for future leadership opportunities. Trish Holliday, the leader of this  training initiative, says what's most important is that state government has undergone a cultural change and no longer sees workforce training "event-driven" but rather as something that happens all the time and that one builds on throughout his or her life.

Q: New technology and automation have been eliminating jobs for decades. The accelerating pace of technology adoption is likely to displace many workers over the coming decades or force them to work differently. What should retraining look like? And who's responsible for making it happen?

JM: Even the term retraining is obsolete. We have to keep learning throughout our lives. Required work skills constantly change, even for people who don't switch jobs. One problem is education and training continue to be viewed as fundamentally different and separate systems, and whatever people learn in one system is not recognized by the other. The answer is that education and workforce training must be redesigned as a broad, integrated system focused on meeting the needs of individuals.

There already are companies and education providers creating local initiatives to integrate work and learning. In the book, I wrote about an apprenticeship program near Charlotte, North Carolina. The program at Blum, Inc., a manufacturer of high-tech latches and hinges for cabinetry, encourages workers to attend classes at the local community college. At the end of their apprenticeships, workers have jobs with the company, an associate degree from the college, and a journeyman certificate from the North Carolina Department of Commerce they can take with them if they switch jobs.

Q: What are some examples of companies — or even countries — promoting individuals' deeper potential? Is anyone taking the right approach to developing the capacities of human workers who increasingly must deal with automation and AI?

JM: Absolutely. In Tennessee, the Lee Company, a family-owned air-conditioning, plumbing and electrical business with more than $22 million in annual sales and fifteen hundred employees, makes a point of helping its workers thrive. After the recession ten years ago, the company created "Lee Company University," a training program that offers employees a free, structured four-year program leading to an industry-recognized certification and journeyman license. Another example, this one a large publicly-traded company: Cummins, Inc., which makes diesel engines and power-generation equipment, is a $26 billion annual business with sixty thousand employees around the globe. Based in Columbus, Indiana, the company employs collaborative robots, or "cobots," alongside its human employees, freeing the latter from repetitive or physically taxing tasks. In Seymour, a town of about twenty thousand in southern Indiana, the company has created partnerships to improve education, amenities, and  quality of life. These include improved pre-kindergarten offerings, more walking and biking trails, and initiatives to attract more businesses to downtown.

The companies that will flourish in the future are those that take an interest in developing their talent by positioning it for the meaningful work only humans can do while also recognizing that people want to be involved in their communities, continue to learn, and live fulfilling lives.

Q: How do you make all companies see the benefit of taking a broader interest in their employees?

JM: To spread these ideas, companies need to talk with each other about the benefits of talent investments in driving their success. Employers can take charge of their companies' futures by defining exactly what abilities and skills workers should possess, and how to develop and attract that talent. Companies must take steps to ensure their workers can fully develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities over the course of their careers and lives, regardless of the structure of their work. Learning for life will be an integral part of the work of the future, and employers need to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. Companies can literally make money as a result of investing in human work. Lumina hired a global consulting firm a few years back to explore the financial benefits of investing in tuition assistance. One employer, Cigna, found that employees who had participated in its education program were more likely to be promoted and were significantly more likely to be transferred and retained, resulting in higher pay for them while saving the company money. Even after accounting for program expenses, for every dollar Cigna had invested in employee education, the company received its original dollar back, plus another $1.29, all in the form of talent management cost savings.

Q: If you could press a button and make a single change in education or workforce training, what would it be, and why?

JM: The durable Rahm Emanuel quote applies here: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." We cannot drift back into familiar ways of thinking out of a misplaced desire for normalcy. We made a massive and sudden shift to remote work this year across large swaths of the economy. Now we need to re-engineer work in ways that create a better work-life balance while also respecting the environment and our global climate. We made an incredibly rapid shift to large-scale online learning, but now we need to redesign programs and curricula to take advantage of the technology available to offer better and more robust learning environments for all students. Similarly, we responded to COVID-19 as a society by changing individual behaviors on a previously unanticipated scale to protect public health. Now we need to find ways to allow everyone to make that kind of difference by serving others. Bit by bit, we are starting to see a new path forward. Our objective now should be to consolidate these gains into a unified system of earning, learning, and serving others.

Prioritize public education in our philanthropic COVID-19 response

January 12, 2021

Children_sky_square_GettyImagesWith the arrival of effective vaccines against COVID-19, the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. Yet the crisis in public education, one deeply exacerbated by the virus, will continue to wreak havoc beyond 2021.

If they have taught us anything, the last ten months have taught us who and what is essential. As people who work in philanthropy, who care about the future of the country, and as moms, we know that our kids and those who teach them are essential. And yet we as a country are not paying nearly enough attention to the public education crisis unfolding before our eyes — or responding to it as the emergency it is.

Here is what we know: More than fifty thousand students in the Los Angeles Unified School District never logged in to online learning during the spring, and there was a dramatic increase in middle and high school students failing classes in the fall. In Montgomery County, Maryland, almost 40 percent of low-income ninth-grade students failed English in the fall, and McKinsey estimates that Black and Latinx students will lose an average of eleven to twelve months of learning by June if the current state of affairs persists.

Here's what else we know: While learning remotely is not easy for any child, the learning losses from school closures and distance learning are not evenly distributed. As working mothers, we've seen first-hand the difficulties distance learning imposes on children and families, even those with significant privilege in the form of economic security, reliable broadband Internet access, quiet(ish) spaces to study, and parents who are working at home and can help their kids with schoolwork. Most children are not so lucky.

Nationally, nearly sixteen million school children lack adequate Internet service or don't have a device that connects to the Internet. In Los Angeles, where we live and work, at least one in four children in high-poverty schools lacks reliable high-quality Internet access, making it functionally impossible for them to participate in a meaningful way in school. Parents who risk their health every day in essential low-wage jobs have no realistic way to support their children through the daily challenges of distance learning. Meanwhile, students from wealthy and upper-middle class home have been able to resume in-person schooling even as high-poverty schools in the same city remain shuttered. The result is that students from poor and working-class families — kids who deserve and most need quality public education — are falling ever further behind their more fortunate peers.

While this is not a problem that philanthropy alone can solve, those of us with access to resources must find creative and strategic ways to show up for kids. All kids.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw the difference philanthropic dollars could make. While federal stimulus funds and federal emergency funds allocated to the states took weeks and, in some cases, months to reach those most in need, public-private partnerships in many places were able to move quickly and efficiently to distribute funds. Here in Los Angeles, a group of more than thirty nonprofit organizations came together to form One Family LA after it became clear that low-income and immigrant families would be the most vulnerable to both the health impacts and economic devastation caused by the virus. In the weeks after the One Family was created, and before federal stimulus funds were fully disbursed, the organization was able to move quickly and distribute over $2 million in emergency relief funds to more than forty-five hundred families in need.

But the emergency is far from over. So what can philanthropy do to make a meaningful difference? How can it encourage and support educators and school district leaders to take the longer view that will be needed to recover from the pandemic even as they struggle to manage a seemingly endless list of day-to-day challenges?

First, philanthropy can use its greatest assets — nimbleness, creativity, and the freedom to take risks — to amplify the bright spots that already exist in public education. Chicago Public Schools recently partnered with philanthropists and community organizations to launch a $50 million program aimed at bringing free, high-quality Internet access to every student who lacks it. We know that things like intensive tutoring reliably help students from lower-income households make major academic gains. Philanthropy should partner with schools and school systems to get tutoring pilot programs off the ground, and efforts like these should be replicated by local leaders in communities across the country, with philanthropy providing seed funding and helping to disseminate best practices across city and state lines.

Second, in the months ahead, philanthropy must use its platforms to promote and fund advocacy work that keeps education at the forefront of the state and federal funding conversation. If we believe that creating a more equitable education system is critical, we need to make investments that articulate and put that priority in front of our elected officials. With so many health and economic challenges facing the country, this year's elections barely touched on the topic of education. Public schools across the country are doing the best they can, but they can't shoulder it all on their own. Ignoring months of learning loss and looming budget crises at the state and district levels is asking educators to do too much with too little.

In his book Our Kids, writer and political scientist Robert Putnam explored the many ways in which housing segregation and growing economic inequality have dissolved the social fabric that used to support poor and working-class children. And while most communities used to have a sense of collective responsibility for all children in the community — all kids were "our kids" — now when we speak about "our kids" we usually mean only the kids in our nuclear families.

We will never build the public-school systems we need or the society we want to live in unless we recapture that sense of collective responsibility for all children. While philanthropy is not an appropriate long-term substitute for robust city, state, and federal funding, it needs, at this moment, to prioritize public education in its COVID-19 response investments. At Fundamental and Great Public Schools Now, we are doing just that, because we know it's the best investment we can make for our families, for society, and for all our kids.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Ana Ponce_Rachel Levin_philantopicAna Ponce is executive director of Great Public Schools Now, and Rachel Levin is president of Fundamental.

5 Questions for...Amoretta Morris, Director, National Community Strategies, The Annie E. Casey Foundation

December 10, 2020

Amoretta Morris joined The Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2013 as a senior associate responsible for overseeing the Family-Centered Community Change initiative. In 2016, she was named director of the foundation's national community strategies, in which role she leads its efforts to help local partners and community stakeholders strengthen their neighborhoods.

Morris's portfolio includes Evidence2Success, which supports partnerships aimed at engaging elected officials, public agencies, and community members in efforts to improve child well-being; community safety and trauma-response initiatives in several cities, including Atlanta; and nationwide efforts to create and preserve affordable housing.

Before joining the foundation, she served as director of student attendance for the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she oversaw activities ranging from chronic absence interventions and dropout prevention initiatives to services for homeless students. Before that, she was a youth and education policy advisor in the Executive Office of the Mayor and the founding director and lead organizer for the Justice 4 DC Youth! Coalition, an advocacy group that works to mobilize youth and adults in support of juvenile justice reform.

PND spoke with Morris about how philanthropy can help advance community health and safety during a pandemic.

Headshot_amoretta_morris_aecfPhilanthropy News Digest: How does family-centered community change differ from other types of change strategies, especially with respect to community health and safety?

Amoretta Morris: Unlike other efforts that focus on one specific element, such as education or health, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative took a multipronged approach to improving family well-being in three key areas: family economic stability; parent engagement and leadership; and early child care and education. The initiative was built around the belief that both parents and children will have significantly better outcomes if communities are able to strengthen and combine these services instead of relying on a single intervention.

PND: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the foundation's efforts to promote access to education, affordable housing, and employment opportunities? What have you and your colleagues done to adapt existing projects and/or strategies to address the immediate and/or longer-term impacts of the pandemic?

AM: The pandemic has created — and in many cases, exacerbated — educational, employment, and social pressures for young people and families. Knowing this, the foundation reallocated some of our funding, repurposed existing resources, amended grant agreements, and increased general operating support to our grantees so that they had flexibility to address the challenges their communities are facing.

In response, our partners adapted their strategies in creative ways to support kids and families. These efforts have included things like connecting people to health care; helping families access food and other critical resources; providing financial assistance to help keep families in their homes, as well as housing individuals experiencing homelessness and advocating to halt evictions and protect renters; working to prevent violence and support those affected by it; supporting immigrant families, including those who do not qualify for state or federal benefits; and helping students secure computers and the reliable Internet access they need for distance learning.

We know that communities are battling multiple pandemics simultaneously — COVID-19, economic distress, racial injustice, and gun violence — and that most of them, including COVID-19, will not immediately disappear, even with a vaccine. So, we remain focused on our commitment to young people and their families and the structural change needed to help all kids thrive.

PND: In 2012, the Family-Centered Community Change initiative implemented a new approach to community partnerships called strategic co-investing. The approach calls for the awarding of flexible grant funding, "nesting" an issue within an existing community change effort, and a rethinking of the funder-grantee relationship in which the funder serves as more of a strategic thought partner to its grantees rather than as the "buyer" of certain outcomes and deliverables. What are some of the lessons you've learned from the initiative — both for funders and for community partners?

AM: The strategic co-investor role with Family-Centered Community Change was a new way of working for the foundation — one that enabled us to examine the ways we engage with grantees, residents, and other local funders. Among many lessons, FCCC emphasized the importance of both systemic solutions that address structural barriers and targeted interventions with families and their children. Local leaders cannot "service" their way out of poverty — we need comprehensive policy solutions that create more equitable pathways to opportunity, coupled with services and resources that help children and their families achieve stability and thrive.

The strategic co-investor role also confirmed for us the catalytic effect national funding can have. Investment from a national foundation is often seen as a vote of confidence and can help partners secure additional funding from federal and state government, local funders, or other national philanthropies. And I believe that for our community partners, the work highlighted the critical importance of listening to the families they serve, respecting their knowledge and expertise, and leveraging them as partners.

PND: Your program at the foundation is focused on driving community change by providing a holistic suite of services to families. What are some of the things philanthropy can do to better support community members in designing and implementing their own strategies for improving community health and safety? What about gun violence, which is the leading cause of death for young Black males between the ages of 15 and 24 and has been on the rise since the early days of the pandemic in many parts of the country?

AM: At the Casey Foundation, we want all young people to have the power and resources needed to thrive in communities that are strong and safe. The foundation advances strategies to ensure that youth and families of color have what they need to flourish — safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, and access to resources that promote children's well-being and positive development. To realize that vision, we, as funders, must be willing to build and share power with communities. Providing tools, resources, and trainings is part of the solution. We must also commit to more authentically engaging with and building the capacity of youth and their families to meaningfully contribute their experience and knowledge in the problem-solving process.

With regard to gun violence, we focus on community safety and violence prevention as part of our national community strategies. That work is rooted in the understanding that violence is a health crisis that must be solved through comprehensive, community-led interventions. For example, in Atlanta, one of our "hometowns," we're partnering with grassroots organizations to equip city residents with the tools and skills they need to be peacemakers and provide pathways out of violence. Our nonprofit partner CHRIS 180 is leading the charge by implementing Cure Violence, a public-health approach to address shootings; it treats shootings like an epidemic that must be stopped before spreading. Under that model, credible messengers — people with strong community ties — act to intervene when violence or retaliation is likely to occur, while community-based organizations that run the programs partner with various local actors like hospital staff, nonprofits, and other organizations to prevent additional violence.

We also invest in national networks focused on promoting solutions in which violence is treated as an urgent public health matter. The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, for example, supports hospital-based intervention programs where healthcare staff and community organizations provide bedside counseling to patients who have experienced violent injuries with the aim of steering them away from retaliation. And national advocacy partners like the Community Justice Reform Coalition and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute have launched campaigns that promote community intervention strategies and demand accountability from elected officials for ending gun violence in their communities.

But we're not alone in this work. We also invest in these efforts alongside our peers as members of the Fund for a Safer Future, a funder collaborative that supports policy, research, and community-based interventions aimed at preventing gun violence.

PND: You've led a nonprofit coalition that advocates for juvenile justice reform, a municipal government's efforts to support underserved and homeless students, and now a national foundation's strategy to center community change in families. Based on your experience in different sectors, what is the one thing we can do to improve child well-being and flourishing, for all children?

AM: The throughline is equity. No matter where the starting place is, your approach should center the voices and experience of those most directly affected by the issue you are trying to solve. In juvenile justice reform, it was organizing alongside formerly incarcerated youth and their families. In DC Public Schools, it meant listening to homeless students, parents, and the school counselors who were making herculean efforts to support those students and parents. And in philanthropy, it is all about deeply listening to grantees, walking neighborhoods, and having community residents take the lead. When you start with the people closest to the pain of the problem, they will lead you to the solution.

Kyoko Uchida

Being bold in a time of uncertainty

December 02, 2020

Heckscher_homeIf there has ever been a time when we need to embrace bold solutions in education, especially to the challenges faced by the underserved, now is the time. And at this critical juncture, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and foundations should lead by doing what we do best. We need, as Michael Bloomberg wrote, to "embolden government" by investing in innovation and demonstrating what works, even if that means assuming more than a normal amount of risk.

At the Heckscher Foundation for Children, we support programs and partnerships that transform specific inflection points into paths toward success. This year, we have distilled that approach into a focus on three critical areas: early childhood literacy, college access and success, and, in what has become a kind of pandemic throughline connecting kindergarten to college, remote learning.

Allow me to share some of the details:

1. Focus funding on early literacy, where learning loss is most critical. We focused on early literacy in 2020 because we know that kindergarten through second grade are among the most critical years in a child's formal education, years in which the prevention of learning loss is crucial. During a normal year, K-3 students from underserved communities lose three months of reading knowledge over the summer; COVID-19 has exacerbated those losses. Even though school is technically in session for many, look at what's happening in California. The California Department of Education recently reported an 89 percent surge in chronic absenteeism among students in the elementary grades, with the highest increase in grades two through four and among Black and Hispanic students, reinforcing what we already knew: remote learning disproportionately hurts students of color. In New York City students who are completing an assignment or a check-in form for the day but who may not be attending classes are counted as present for full-day instruction.

To help address the problem, we are supporting multiple projects that address early literacy learning loss and are urging other funders to do the same. This fall, we developed a project that enlists Brooklyn College students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate early childhood literacy courses to serve as literacy tutors for students in the New York City public school system. Participants in the program are being trained in Reading Rescue, a one-on-one research and evidence-based intervention targeted to high-need first-grade students who are reading below grade level. The program ensures that students receive explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics using techniques determined to be most effective by experts in the field of reading science. We are also funding Practice Makes Perfect, Springboard Collaborative, and Read Alliance, all of which have been proven to work, and have provided a third year of funding for EarlyBird, a targeted solution to the current problematic state of dyslexia diagnosis.

We cannot allow our most vulnerable children to fall further behind in the fundamental area of literacy. With that in mind, education funders should pay special attention to proven early literacy programs, today and in the years to come.

2. Supporting teachers who do not have the skills needed to teach remotely. Remote learning does not work for poor kids, particularly poor kids in elementary school. In fact, remote instruction is far from ideal for any student, and most teachers lack the skills needed to teach remotely in an effective way. In a national survey of more than twelve hundred K-12 teachers conducted by ClassTag in March, more than half (56.7 percent) of the teachers who responded said they are "not prepared to facilitate remote learning," while a somewhat smaller percentage (42.8 percent) said they alone are responsible for deciding which remote/online tools they use. We know teachers are in need of support, yet not enough attention has been paid to helping them learn how to teach online.

Now, we have never been fans or successful funders of professional development for teachers, for any number of reasons, including difficulties in measuring its impact on student achievement, but desperate times demand desperate measures and have led us to re-examine our position and ask whether there is an opportunity here to support professional development with respect to the skills teachers need to teach online effectively. Many of these skills are basic and easily learned — how to engage students while conducting a Zoom session, how to use tools like Nearpod, how to manage breakout rooms — and all are crucial in keeping students engaged.

With our support, Doug Lemov and his team at Teach Like a Champion offered synchronous webinars for teachers and school leaders at our grantee schools and organizations. The webinars were predicated on the idea that to truly understand the content they were delivering online, educators needed to both absorb it and experience it as participants in synchronous sessions. They needed, as Lemov explained, to be “cold called,” to share short written responses with their peers, and to participate in online discussions. In short, they needed to be fully engaged in an online session for ninety minutes in order to understand how digital tools shape a learning culture. The results of the initiative have been impressive, and classes were oversubscribed as word of the value of the experience spread.

We’ve also provided funding for the Relay Graduate School of Education in support of a series of synchronous online professional development trainings for teachers, school leaders, and alumni of Teach for America. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Relay has run workshops for more than fifteen hundred school leaders and teachers across the country, including over thirty workshops delivered directly to schools and school networks.

The skills needed to teach effectively have changed over the past few months. It is incumbent on us as funders to help teachers learn the basic tech skills that allow them to do what they do best: connect with their students.

3. Increasing investments in college access and success programs — because the best leg up and out of poverty is a college degree. College access and success for underserved students is still the surest path out of poverty. This year, we focused on enabling inner-city high school students, regardless of their achievement level, to earn early college credits, even when their courses were remote. To that end, our staff came up with a way to broaden the appeal of College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams by encouraging students to take courses and the exams via ModernStates.org. Underwritten by philanthropist Steve Klinsky, the site funds the production of online courses taught by college professors designed to prepare students for the exams; it also covers test fees so that students can earn up to a year of college credit without the added cost of tuition or textbooks. At a time when the cost of college is an ever-increasing burden to matriculation and persistence, we see this as an important lever to keep college-going students not just on track but ahead of the curve.

We also envisioned and funded a strategic partnership between two of the best college access and success programs for high-achieving youth Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and Opportunity Network (OppNet) — focused on building up the path from college to a career. While an impressive 90 percent of SEO Scholars earn a college degree, the organization identified a gap in its services: adequately preparing students for the transition from college to employment. Enter OppNet, which teaches career-readiness skills to high-achieving youth, targeting students who have a similar profile to SEO Scholars. OppNet uses a train-the-trainer approach to improving student career competencies and outcomes, and the partnership ultimately enables both programs to better and more broadly serve underserved kids.

Last but not least, we doubled down on our college-success initiatives: we continued our support of intensive career development and leadership training for low-income, first-generation college students via America Needs You; we underwrote the development of a software solution (by Overgrad) that provides counselors and students, in New York, with a localized approach to the college access process; and we increased support for our own transfer credit initiative, resulting in the development of Transfer Explorer, a revolutionary tool for CUNY students. This free, searchable, user-friendly database offers information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers across any number of undergraduate institutions in the CUNY system — the first time such information has been made publicly available. Thanks to the database, CUNY students can avoid the loss of credits when they transfer between schools in the system, increasing the likelihood they will graduate. 

We are all struggling to find a way out of this mess. I don’t have a clue as to when it will end or how, but I often find myself returning to that old, old saying, “this too shall pass.” While we look forward to that day, let’s embrace our obligation now, today, to take bold action that helps level the playing field for underserved youth.

Headshot_peter_sloane_heckscher_foundation_philantopicPeter Sloane, chair and CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children, is deeply committed to enhancing educational opportunities for young people.

5 Questions for...Michael Nyenhuis, President and CEO, UNICEF USA

October 22, 2020

UNICEF — the United Nations Children's Fund — is probably best known to Americans of a certain age for the orange trick-or-treat boxes it has been distributing to young trick-or-treaters since the 1950s. The successor to the International Children's Emergency Fund, which was created in 1946 to address the needs of children and mothers affected by the far-reaching devastation of World War II, the social welfare organization today works to improve the lives and defend the rights of children in a hundred and ninety-two countries and territories. 

Recently, PND spoke with Michael Nyenhuis, president and CEO of UNICEF USA, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization established in 1947 to support UNICEF's work on behalf of the world's children, about the organization's historic decision to allocate funding and resources to help a handful of cities in the United States become more child-friendly, what it is doing to adapt its Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign to our new COVID reality, and his advice to nonprofits trying to make their message heard in a very noisy world.

Headshot_michael_nyenhuisPhilanthropy News Digest: You joined UNICEF USA as president in March, after the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Given your experience in the humanitarian aid and development field, what were your immediate concerns for the organization?

Michael Nyenhuis: There were two. One was our ability to respond to COVID effectively around the world. UNICEF has done a terrific job of delivering personal protective equipment to forty million healthcare workers in some of the neediest countries and providing critical wash and sanitation supplies for seven and a half million people in countries that don't have the infrastructure we have here in the United States. We've all seen how challenged our response in the U.S. was, so you can imagine how much more difficult it is in far less resourced places, but, as I say, UNICEF did a terrific job of responding to the crisis in the short term.

My other concern was the impact of the pandemic on the critical health and education and nutrition programs that UNICEF operates around the world. We provide basic vaccines for 45 percent of the world's children, and yet our ability to deliver those vaccines and get kids vaccinations when they need them was compromised by the shutdowns and disruptions to supply chains. We're still seeing the impacts. There are a billion and a half kids out of school around the globe, and most of them lack the technology to access a curriculum. It's those kinds of basic programs for children, which UNICEF, under normal circumstances, provides so effectively, that were interrupted by the virus. And the question was, and is, "How do you to take meaningful measures to stem the spread of COVID and at the same time keep those programs going?"

PND: Clearly, there are COVID-related needs everywhere. In August, your organization announced that, for the first time in its history, it would allocate funding and resources to help cities in the United States become more child-friendly. The initial cohort of cities includes Houston, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. What was the reasoning behind the decision to devote resources to the U.S, and was the inclusion of Minneapolis in the initial cohort connected to the killing of George Floyd and the protests sparked by his killing?

MN: Actually, the idea of UNICEF USA working more directly on children's issues here in the United States has been simmering for some time, and the decision to go ahead wasn’t just a response to recent events. Our tagline at UNICEF is "for every child," and for some time now we've been thinking about the needs of vulnerable kids in some of the wealthier countries that typically provide a large portion of the resources for UNICEF programs globally.

UNICEF also has a framework called "Child-Friendly Cities" that it has used effectively in communities around the world, over three thousand of them to date, where we work with municipalities to help them develop child-friendly policies and programs and think about how they're using their budgets and resources to positively impact children. We started to see that as an opportunity here in the U.S. as well.

So, all that had been going on behind the scenes, and then more recent events, COVID in particular, really ended up shining a light on the needs of kids in underprivileged communities and communities of color here in the U.S. that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID. The racial justice issues that came to the fore after the killing of George Floyd simply accelerated our plan to move forward with the Child Friendly Cities Initiative, and that's what we've been doing.

We actually had a meeting last year with officials from cities that were interested in the initiative, and Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Houston were among those cities. They also happen to be cities we were already in conversation with, so the fact that Minneapolis is one of the first cities to work with us is more coincidental than anything, but I think the timing is fortuitous.

PND: With whom will you be working in those cities?

MN: Well, typically we work with the department in the mayor's office or city government that is responsible for child-focused programs in the community. Sometimes that's the health department, sometimes it's the education department, sometimes it’s a combination. And our work with them is based on looking at the policies they’ve developed that impact children and making sure they are child-friendly. If we feel they aren't, we have templates they can use and different ways for them to think about modifying, adding, or adopting those policies to more effectively promote healthy, productive, and safe environments for children in their communities.

Beyond that, our efforts to convene public-sector agencies and child-serving not-for-profits focused on improving conditions for kids — especially vulnerable kids — and get them talking about how they can work together to make sure kids have the things they need to thrive often serves as a catalyst for more effective programming. I'm talking about things like equitable access to health care and a more equitable distribution of parks and playgrounds where kids can play safely. We're in conversation with dozens of cities that have expressed interest in the initiative, and our aspirational goal is for every community across the country to develop child-friendly programs aligned with our framework, because, again, it's a tested and proven approach to making communities more safe, secure, and healthy for children.

PND: Most Americans know UNICEF from its orange Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF boxes. Obviously, Halloween is going to look different this year. What percentage of your annual fundraising revenue is tied to Halloween, and what are you doing to adapt to our new COVID reality?

MN: Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is an iconic part of the fall fundraising season here in the United States, and millions of kids have been involved in it over the seventy years we've run the program. Over that time, we've raised $180 million for programs that impact kids around the world. But beyond the money, it is a program that engages kids when they're young and helps them think about the globe in a different way and recognize that they are global citizens who can do something to make a difference for other children in other places who may not be as fortunate.

I Trick-or-Treated for UNICEF when I was a kid, and it really made me understand that the world was bigger than my neighborhood and that there were children in faraway places who didn't have the things I was lucky to have and had needs I could hardly imagine. No doubt, it’s one of the things that led me to humanitarian and development work. And, you know, I speak all the time to supporters of UNICEF who had their first exposure to the organization through our Trick-or-Treat boxes. So, the program is bigger than just what we're able to raise every year, although it is an important part of our budget. It's really about creating global citizens who are going to be interested in other people, other countries, and global causes the rest of their lives.

You won't be surprised to hear that this year we're pivoting because of the COVID crisis to a virtual trick-or-treat experience. And what we've cooked up is really pretty amazing and is going to be fun for kids to participate in. Kids who sign up will get to track how much they raise through their own virtual trick-or-treat box and decide where they want their money to go — we'll give them several options for how the money they raise can be invested to help other kids around the world. To learn more and register, just go to trickortreatforunicef.org.

PND: Excellent. As a former journalist, do you have any advice for nonprofit communications professionals who may be struggling to get their message heard at this very, very noisy time?

MN: I don't know that it's advice, but what I would tell people is that the challenges we are experiencing here in the U.S., whether it's COVID or racial injustice or a dysfunctional political system, are challenges that people in other countries are also experiencing. Take South Sudan, for instance. I was having a conversation with our team there a couple of weeks ago, and all the pre­cautions we are taking here to prevent and slow the spread of COVID — masking and social distancing and delaying the start of schools — all those things are happening in South Sudan, too. But even though there are similarities, the depth of the need and the capacity needed to recover from something like COVID in a place like South Sudan is very, very different. So, while it can be useful to draw parallels, let's not lose sight of the reality in really resource-poor countries, and let's not forget that people in those countries need our help as much as they ever did.

— Mitch Nauffts

Donors have an opportunity to build on last year's strong giving

August 17, 2020

Closed_coronavirus_united_wayAccording to Giving USA 2020: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2019, charitable giving increased 4.2 percent in current dollars, to $449.64 billion, in 2019, making it the second highest year for charitable giving (when adjusted for inflation). While it's too soon to tell what that will mean for 2020, such a strong show of support for the charitable sector is an encouraging sign in what otherwise is an uncertain philanthropic environment, thanks to the spread of COVID-19.

Clearly, many Americans view generosity as an important part of their lives. The Giving USA data from 2019 and the philanthropic trends we've seen in past recessions (as reported in Giving USA) can help us understand what we should expect in these uncertain times.

A strong economy in 2019 resulted in more giving by individuals, corporations, and foundations, as well as increases in giving to organizations in all but one of the nine recipient categories tracked by Giving USA — six of which recorded their highest ever giving totals (adjusted for inflation) in 2019. The analysis also found that the growth in giving in 2019 was driven by a jump in giving by individuals, which rose 4.7 percent and logged its second-highest dollar total (adjusted for inflation) ever — and which handily remains the largest single source of charitable giving at 69 percent of total giving. In recent years we've also seen giving by foundations comprising an increasingly larger share of total giving emerge as a trend; in 2019, that share was 17 percent for the second year in a row, the highest on record.

The uncertainty around the COVID-19 situation in the United States makes it almost impossible to predict when and how quickly the economy will fully recover. Giving USA found that in 2007-09, the period immediately preceding and following the financial crisis, foundation giving grew 3 percent, even as overall giving declined 12 percent. And to date in 2020, we've seen foundations increase both the number and dollar amount of the grants they make to help fill gaps created by the virus, as well as accelerated distributions from donor-advised funds.

Dunham + Company's own study found that the oldest donors, regular churchgoers, and self-described conservatives were more likely to say they would maintain their giving at last year's levels or increase it. Many also cited COVID-19 as the main reason they plan to give more. However, the study also found that many donors were anxious about the virus and its impacts, causing a quarter (25 percent) of respondents to say they plan to cut back on their giving. From where we sit, the charitable organizations that have had success since the virus emerged as a public health crisis have pivoted quickly to donor-centric communications that emphasize the challenges donors might be facing while also affirming the relevance of their missions. Indeed, a number of our clients have recorded some of the best daily giving totals in their history over the past few months.

Conversely, the organizations that have struggled are those that have not been able to pivot, for whatever reason, to online giving and/or have not diversified their base of support. I'm particularly concerned for nonprofits in education and the arts, culture, and humanities — organizations that rely on major gifts or do not have large endowments — even though giving to these sectors saw double-digit growth in 2019. If they hope to maintain both their relevancy and viability, it will be important for these organizations, once we're on the other side of the pandemic, to be able to demonstrate that they weathered the storm and are in a good position to continue serving their communities.

Ultimately, donors have an opportunity and a responsibility to make their dollars count on behalf of the organizations and sectors they care about most. We still have time in 2020 to make this a year of solid philanthropic support for the charitable sector.

Rick Dunham_PhilanTopicRick Dunham is the immediate past chair of the Giving USA Foundation and founder and CEO of Dunham + Company. He has spent more than forty years in marketing, fundraising, and organizational development for nonprofit organizations. Giving USA, the longest-running and most comprehensive report of its kind in America, is published by the Giving USA Foundation and is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

International grantmaking during COVID: a focus on equitable access to education in Latin America

August 12, 2020

International grants_tinker foundationIt’s safe to say that no person or organization is having the 2020 they expected. At the Tinker Foundation, the pandemic has caused us to shift course significantly as Latin America, the region central to our mission, struggles with a once-in-a-century health, economic, and social crisis. And while our home base is New York City, we are challenging ourselves to put our assets to work for the organizations and communities at the epicenter of the pandemic there.

Like many other foundations, when the coronavirus emerged we reached out to our current grantees to offer support. At that point, in mid-March, we questioned whether it might seem "U.S.-centric" to send a communication about a virus that had not yet reached large swaths of the hemisphere. In retrospect, that concern seems quaint. By mid-May, a New York Times headline, "Latin America’s Outbreak Rivals Europe’s. But Its Options Are Worse," was sounding the alarm. As of this writing, the region leads the world in deaths from COVID-19.

As we talked with our grantees, we noted how quickly many were mobilizing amid the uncertainty (and despite, in some countries, official denials that the virus was a problem). One grantee, the Argentine fact-checking and investigative journalism organization Chequeado, repurposed travel funds from a grant to prototype a website dedicated to combating misinformation about the virus. Within weeks, they had secured additional funding and launched a regional effort with more than twenty other organizations.

Within Tinker, we recognized the need to begin taking action — just as our grantees had — while at the same time laying the groundwork for more substantive grantmaking. We started small, reallocating funds from other budget lines to support rapid-response grantmaking. These early grants prioritized the immediate needs of vulnerable populations, including the millions of Venezuelan migrants and refugees unable to work as stay-at-home orders rolled out across Latin America. Two small grants to Tinker grantee partners in Central America focused on vulnerable children affected by school closures. Another sought to support civil society organizations working to shift strategies in response to the crisis.

As we began making plans for the remainder of the year, the scale of the COVID catastrophe in Latin America became clearer. Ecuador experienced a devastating early wave of infections that collapsed the health system in Guayaquil, its largest city. Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru all appeared in the list of seven countries with the highest incidence of COVID. A virus first introduced to Latin America by international travelers returning home from abroad was now tightening its grip on vulnerable populations across the region, from residents of crowded informal settlements, to migrants and refugees, to Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities.

As a midsize foundation, we knew we had to make the most of our grantmaking resources. But we had other important assets we could draw on, too, including longstanding relationships and networks, operational flexibility, and an engaged board willing to operate differently in response to a crisis. In addition to maintaining some longer-term grantmaking across our program areas, we decided it made sense to identify one COVID-related priority to focus on in the remainder of the year and give it our all.

Discussions with grantees, staff, experts, and board members all pointed to the impact of the pandemic on education, an existing Tinker program area. We learned, for instance, that by June, 95 percent of students in the region were out of school. As in other parts of the world, ministries of education, administrators, and teachers had quickly shifted gears — introducing online instruction strategies meant to replace classroom instruction. And yet past crises suggested that students would incur significant learning losses, and that many would not return to school at all, with the impacts likely greatest among students who had faced barriers to equitable education pre-pandemic.

In late June, Tinker launched a $500,000 funding initiative to help address the specific educational challenges generated by the pandemic. Over the coming months, we will partner with Latin America-based civil society organizations working to address the near-term effects of school closures. Many of these organizations have already hit the ground running, using their own resources to fill gaps, pilot innovative approaches, and support teachers and students. Additional funding can enable further experimentation and help consolidate and scale what is already working. Critically, the initiative will seek to complement and build on the priorities and initiatives of public education systems in the region.

The enormous response to our initiative highlights the urgent need for more funding for education as the virus continues to upend systems and the status quo. We received more than five hundred letters of inquiry, approximately five times what a typical call for applications from our Education program attracts. Following a review of a subset of full proposals, we will announce grants in September.

The applications we’ve received speak to the predictable but profound challenges of ensuring equitable access to education in a pandemic context — particularly in rural and low-income urban areas where students have limited access to the Internet or Internet-enabled devices. The proposed projects also demonstrate the resilience and creativity of schools, teachers, and civil society organizations, all of whom are imagining new ways to reach and engage students, as well as reinvigorating older tools like community radio. A number of applications call for investment in social-emotional learning and other efforts to address the trauma occasioned by the pandemic as a critical enabler of continued learning.

Following this round of special grants, we will work closely with our partner organizations to learn from their work and identify broader areas for research and innovation, larger-scale funding, and policy change. As a foundation that works across Latin America, we also hope to connect and convene local actors that share a commitment to protecting access to education throughout the crisis.

COVID-19 has created profound challenges across many domains — all of them competing for policy makers' and the public's attention. But when we look back on this challenging time, it may well be disruption to education that casts the longest shadow over Latin America. If millions of students fall behind or become permanently disconnected from school, the impact could last at least a generation. At Tinker, we will continue to support those in Latin America who are imagining and taking action to ensure a better future for the region’s children and young people.

Headshot_caroline_kronley_squareCaroline Kronley is president of the New York City-based Tinker Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation, she worked as managing director for strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation, leading the development of new programmatic initiatives, and before that she was a management consultant at Katzenbach Partners and at Booz & Company, where she served a broad range of clients on strategy and organizational performance.

[Review] The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America

August 06, 2020

The merit myth_coverDespite the frequently repeated claim that higher education in the United States is a meritocractic system, college is not the great equalizer it’s touted to be. Indeed, long-standing inequities in the United States are often reflected in and perpetuated by our institutions of higher education. Drawing on insights from sociology, education, economics, and history, The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America explores the roots of these practices and policies and shows how they continue to play out today.

The book’s three authors have all spent decades researching and writing about education policy. Anthony Carnevale is the director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, a nonprofit research and policy institute focused on the relationship between education, career qualifications, and current workforce demands. Jeff Strohl is the center’s director of research and spends much of his time examining how education impacts career opportunities. And Peter Schmidt, an award-winning journalist and author of Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action, serves as a deputy editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education and previously covered education policy and access at Education Week.

To understand higher education in the United States, they write, we must first look at the factors that contribute to the success of certain individuals and groups as they navigate the education system and then enter the workforce — as well as the lack of success experienced by others. When we do, it becomes obvious that characterizations of higher education in the U.S. as a meritocracy makes it easy for too many to blame individuals for their lack of success while ignoring the fact that the system as designed creates inequality at every level.

In support of that argument, the authors spend the first few chapters offering an analysis of the interlocking mechanisms — social, political, cultural, economic — that perpetuate disparities in access to higher education. Along the way, they pose several key questions: What is the role of higher education in American life? How do, and should, we define success? And who is deserving of the limited resources available to the system? Such questions are meant, among other things, to prod the reader to think about familiar admissions practices — a reliance on standardized tests, in-person interviews, an emphasis on extracurricular activities — that historically were rooted in an unabashed elitism and have been shown to have little value in predicting student success.

The authors further note that the increase in higher education enrollment has been driven to a large degree by the growth of public universities, which today enroll roughly three-quarters of college students in the U.S. White students from wealthy backgrounds, on the other hand, are the majority at many of the most selective colleges and universities in the country, and those colleges and universities receive a far greater share of the private dollars and resources dedicated to higher education, enabling them to invest far more than less-well-resourced schools in the success of the students they enroll — and reinforce the all-too-familiar "separate and unequal" dynamic that has characterized American education over the last hundred and fifty years.

Because the most selective private colleges and universities typically have the largest endowments, they also are able to compete vigorously for applicants with the best grades or test scores and most interesting extracurricular accomplishments, leading to a largely class-based stratification of schools into tiers — most selective, selective, and so on — that has become more pronounced in recent decades and increasingly difficult to overcome. For Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl, the solution to the problem is obvious: if we want to raise graduation and retention rates and start to narrow inequality in America, we need to devote more of our limited resources to middle-tier schools.

Unfortunately, the immense pressures from competing interests that higher education must deal with makes that unlikely to happen any time soon. Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl argue compellingly that all these factors— from inequitable admission practices, to universities operating like for-profit businesses and/or subsidizing education for the wealthy, to first-generation and underresourced students being deterred by the increasingly complicated admissions process — have created a system that is anything but a meritocracy and is teetering on the verge of collapse.

But there's hope. The last chapter of The Merit Myth offers a number of proposals for how the system can be improved and made more equitable. They include calls for building a leadership pipeline in higher education that more closely reflects the diversity of the U.S. population, ending reliance on standardized tests scores and legacy admissions, redirecting resources to schools where those resources would have the greatest impact, and making fourteen years of education the new "normal." While many of these reforms require changes at the university and legislative levels, they also require that we think carefully and redefine our collective goals for higher education in America.

In providing a historical context for current debates about higher education and in considering all the many factors involved in making education policy, the authors provide a well-rounded picture of our current system. If the prose gets a bit dense at times, it is merely testament to just how complicated the challenge and potential solutions are. Ultimately, Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl have provided a great service by reframing how we should think about the challenge and giving readers hope that real change is possible.

Amelia Becker, an intern with the Communications department at Candid, currently is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and economics.

Students still need emergency aid. Funders must step up to fill the gap.

July 24, 2020

Mother_college_student_son_GettyImages_PhilanTopicjpgIn response to the coronavirus pandemic, colleges, nonprofits, government, and philanthropy moved quickly to disburse emergency aid to students, many of whom found themselves without reliable access to food, housing, and technology after their campuses were forced to close. And with job losses affecting both working students and families, that support may have temporarily allayed the fears of students who wondered whether they would ever be able to return to school.

But for two groups of students — those ineligible for federal financial assistance, including undocumented students, and those, like student-parents, with additional financial needs — much-needed relief was in short supply. When government is either unwilling or unable to support students working to make their lives and communities better, philanthropic institutions have a duty to fill the gap. As a new school year marked by uncertainty draws closer, more emergency aid is needed, especially for students whose educational aspirations may slip through the widening cracks created by the pandemic.

While the federal CARES Act provided $6.3 billion in emergency grant funds for colleges and universities to distribute to students, the U.S. Department of Education's original guidance for the funds left out undocumented students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and international students, creating confusion for months and in some cases slowing the distribution of aid to other students.

What's more, the funds provided by the CARES Act could only be used for food, housing, and expenses directly related to the cost of attendance, leaving many students without adequate support to continue their education. For student-parents, in particular — who need to support children as well as themselves — expenses almost always exceed the assistance provided by their schools. Even before the pandemic, the cost of food, housing, and child care — which in many states is costlier than tuition or rent — made it difficult for student-parents to complete a degree. Single mothers, for instance, are more likely than any other group of women to have started but not finished college and just 8 percent of single student-moms graduate on time.

As more funders and institutions of higher education begin to examine how their investments can be used to advance racial equity, it's also important to note that 40 percent of all Black women in college are mothers. Clearly, success in closing racial and gender equity gaps in college success will remain elusive if we ignore the needs of student-parents.

DACA recipients enroll in college at about the same rate as their peers, but they are four times less likely to complete a degree. They also are ineligible for Pell grants or other forms of federal financial aid, which makes the high cost of tuition a significant barrier to their ability to complete their education. And while mental health issues disproportionately impact undocumented students' postsecondary success, many undocumented students are unable to qualify for affordable health insurance.

With limited emergency aid available to student-parents and unavailable to most undocumented students, the long-term success of both groups is in doubt and should be a priority for philanthropy going forward.

There's no shortage of research on the economic and societal benefits of investments in these groups. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has increased high school graduation and college enrollment rates and raised productivity and earnings among DACA recipients. Immigrants and international students make significant contributions to the U.S. economy as well as the innovations needed to address the challenges we face and keep the country competitive in a globalized economy.

Likewise, student-parents are risers and earn better grades than non-parenting students. Investing in their success not only helps them, it also benefits their children. Parents who complete a degree have access to higher-paying jobs and, on average, double their income over the course of their working lives, while studies have shown that even a $1,000 increase in salary can result in as much as a 27 percent increase in a child's cognitive development. We all benefit when committed learners are given an opportunity to realize their potential.

Philanthropy is uniquely suited to address these gaps in emergency aid funding — and many funders are already leading the way. In California, the College Futures Foundation and Mission Asset Fund created a statewide emergency aid fund that prioritizes undocumented students, foster youth, and those who are housing insecure. Edquity, which both of our organizations — Imaginable Futures and ECMC Foundation — support, joined Course Hero and Believe in Students to allow anyone to contribute to a pool of emergency funds that will be distributed to students not eligible for CARES Act aid.

Our own organizations invested in emergency aid efforts when the outbreak and subsequent spread of the virus forced campuses to close: Imaginable Futures targeted $400,000 of its emergency aid funding to student-parents and, because they have higher living expenses, required that funding be set at least $1,200 per student-parent, while ECMC Foundation made more than $1.5 million in direct emergency aid grants that went primarily to students who are not eligible for federal financial aid.

Still, as uncertainty looms over the upcoming school year, the educational dreams of 454,000 undocumented students and nearly four million student-parents hang in the balance. With the crisis likely to extend into the fall, we need more philanthropic investment in emergency aid for students left behind by federal programs. Educational equity, economic mobility, breaking the cycle of poverty, racial justice — none of these ambitious goals are realistic if students do not have the resources to succeed.

Undocumented students, DACA recipients, student-parents attend classes and study while navigating family care, financial insecurity, housing instability, and hunger. They fight for their education and their future every day. It is time we fight with them.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Vinice davis_jessica_haselton_PhilanTopic

Vinice Davis is a venture partner at Imaginable Futures and an investor in Edquity. Jessica Haselton is director of Education Innovation Ventures at ECMC Foundation and an investor in and board member of Edquity.

"I Am Tired...The Pandemic of Racism Must End"

June 08, 2020

Black_Lives_Matter_protestOver the past week, civil unrest has gripped the nation. Much of it was sparked by the unwarranted and senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer who held his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes as Floyd begged for his life and three other MPD officers stood by and did nothing. Tragically, it is only the latest example of an African-American citizen of this country being subjected to wanton police brutality and losing his life as a result. Enough is enough. I cannot, in all good conscience, remain silent while police violence against African Americans goes unchecked or unpunished.

I am a proud African-American man who loves this country. I have close friends and family of all races, and I pride myself on being measured and fair. I have always tried to view the "glass of life" as being "three-quarters full instead of a quarter empty," but my patience has run thin...and I am tired.

Tired of watching innocent black men being targeted with violence by police officers.

Tired of bigots taking the law into their own hands and feeling justified in confronting black citizens of this country.

Tired of negative, media-driven stereotypes that shape the dangerous narratives around young black men.

Tired of white people calling the police on black people, falling back on their feelings of entitlement and privilege to weaponize the police.

Tired of both the purposeful and passive suppression of talented black professionals by corporate America.

Tired of watching black-owned businesses struggle because they cannot access capital.

Tired of corporate America profiting from the fruit of black culture, but not nurturing the tree that bears it.

Tired of the word diversity, which is meant to deflect attention from the word black.

Tired of systemic and institutionalized corporate racism masked by flowery mission statements and codes of conduct that are rarely enforced.

Tired of the rise of the digital and social media economy without commensurate investment in populations that have driven much of its success.

Tired of being disrespected in restaurants as if I did not exist.

Tired of being followed in retail establishments as if I were about to commit a crime.

Tired of not being afforded the same assumption of competence and associated opportunities as my white high school, college, and business school classmates.

Tired of explaining why I like to spend time with black people, even as white people are never asked to explain why they like spending time with other white people.

Tired of the overall physical and psychological toll that being a black man takes on me every day.

As the father of two talented, charming, educated, young black men with unlimited potential, it pains me deeply that I needed to have "the conversation" with them when they were teenagers regarding their possible interaction with cops — the same conversation my dad had with me almost five decades earlier, and that no doubt his dad had with him. Every evening before I go to bed, I say a prayer that my boys will not be targeted and killed by law enforcement who see them as a threat — something none of my white friends or classmates have ever had to endure, much less think about.

Why are we having the same conversations about racism in America in 2020 that we've had for the past fifty, hundred, two hundred years? The reason is that we have never truly had a desire to actually address the "pandemic" of racism in this country. I guarantee you we will develop a vaccine for COVID-19 in short order, just like we've developed cures for other diseases that have plagued us over the centuries. We are a nation able to muster vast amounts of money and intelligence in service to a worthy cause, and the pandemic of racism should be no different. Racism can be cured, but black people alone cannot put an end to the disease. We need the commitment and engagement of consciously aware white people to do that.

Let me be clear: I do not condone violence and looting. But I fully understand the frustration and outrage sparked by yet another incident in which the life of a black person is considered to be worthless. The sight of so many young people — white, black, yellow, and brown — coming together across this country and around the world to protest the injustice of it gives me hope.

Corporate America is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this conversation and to drive the lasting change we so desperately need. As it has done throughout history, American business can offer viable solutions that address the disease of racism while setting an example for the country and the world. The initial response from dozens of CEOs and corporate leaders over the past week gives me cause to be optimistic. But I challenge all of corporate America to follow the lead of these men and women and develop a plan for their businesses informed by fairness, love, and compassion for everyone. Only then will we unlock the true greatness of America.

Headshots_earl_gravesEarl "Butch" Graves, Jr. is an American businessman and retired basketball player.

COVID-19 Is Prompting a Global Response From Impact Investors

May 13, 2020

Impact investing_610x308For most of us, the coronavirus pandemic is the first truly global crisis of our lifetimes. But while signs of progress against the virus have emerged from parts of Asia and Europe, infections and virus-related deaths continue to climb in the United States, and it seems as if large parts of the Global South are still in the early stages of their infection curves.

Our extensive webs of human connection are the proximate cause of the virus's rapid spread around the globe, highlighting, like nothing in recent memory, our global interconnectedness.

Ironically, those same links are also critical to the solution to the problem.

Across the impact investing community, COVID-19 is prompting a global response that those of us in the impact investing community have been proud to witness. Impact investors are doing what they do best: leveraging the power of finance to address the world's biggest challenges. It is already becoming clear that the ripple effects of the pandemic intersect with many of the goals impact investors have focused on for years: broadening access to affordable health care and housing, creating quality jobs, and building more sustainable agriculture and energy systems.

Among the hundreds of member organizations in the Global Impact Investing Network, tangible actions aimed at changing the course of the pandemic are unfolding. At the GIIN, we see those actions falling into three primary phases: a response phase, with a focus on immediate health and financial needs; a recovery phase, with a focus on rebuilding and tackling the social and economic impacts of the pandemic; and a resilience phase, with a focus on long-term systems change.

In many cases, impact investors are adjusting financing terms for existing investees as a first and immediate response. By making debt repayment terms more forgiving, impact investors are ensuring that social and environmental enterprises can continue to provide critical services — even as many struggle to overcome virus-related cash crunches.

Many impact investors also are offering bridge loans to their investees. Such loans are meant to help businesses cover expenses like payroll, rents, and other operational costs until emergency government aid arrives or consumer demand revives. Others in the GIIN network are expanding microfinance eligibility criteria and loan size, while still others are actively seeking out new investments that can help the world address the global public health emergency — proving, if nothing else, that not all liquidity has dried up.

Development banks across nearly all continents are issuing new bonds at a rapid clip. The proceeds will finance projects with broad COVID-related impacts. These projects are focused on things like improving the efficiency of healthcare systems, supporting the unemployed, and reducing friction in disrupted supply chains.

While we expect the near-term response by impact investors to the pandemic to grow in volume, actions by development finance institutions indicate that many in the impact investing community are thinking a step ahead to the medium-term investments needed to address a host of issues, including global under- and unemployment and inadequate health care, during the post-pandemic recovery phase.

As these efforts take shape, a central theme is becoming clear: in order to be truly effective, the global post-pandemic recovery will require the full spectrum of capital — from philanthropic to commercial. As things stand, we are seeing signs that blended-finance structures — long noted for their potential to bring different types of investors together to address urgent challenges — could rise to a new level of prominence. Such structures use philanthropic grants or concessionary capital to reduce investors' risk and catalyze the entry of larger pools of market-rate-seeking capital into investments with the potential to drive deep impact.

Just as we need to rely on one another more than ever during this crisis, we also need investors and grantmakers to work together as never before. But as we work together to respond to and recover from the impacts of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of our longer-term goals. The crisis is laying bare deep inequities in our healthcare and financial systems and causing the most harm to those who were already the most vulnerable: the poor, the ill and elderly, minority communities, women and girls. As we strive to become more resilient in the years after the crisis has passed, we must do everything in our power to prevent those inequities from taking hold again.

Our collective efforts over the coming months are likely to shape the way we approach the biggest global challenges we face for decades to come — challenges such as the climate emergency, which, like COVID-19, ignore international borders.

Headshot_giselle_leungAs you begin, in the coming months, to chart your "new normal," I urge you to remain mindful of that broader perspective and to hold tight to a shared vision of a more just, equitable, and resilient future — and to invest in it.

Giselle Leung is managing director of the Global Impact Investing Network.

Weekend Link Roundup (March 21-22, 2020)

March 22, 2020

Coronavirus-times-square-subway-06There's no other way to put it: we've just experienced one of the most extraordinary weeks in our lifetimes. On the off-chance you were rafting the Grand Canyon, here's our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector — and, yes, it's heavy on coronavirus-related items. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Economy

"This is not a hoax. Repeat, this is not a hoax." Multinational investment bank Morgan Stanley sees the U.S. economy falling into a deep recession in the second quarter, with GDP plunging 30 percent and unemployment spiking to nearly 13 percent. "Economic activity has come to a near standstill in March," the bank's economists said in a report to clients on Sunday. "As social distancing measures increase in a greater number of areas and as financial conditions tighten further, the negative effects on near-term GDP growth become that much greater." 

Education

On the Brookings site, Nicol Turner Lee, a governance studies fellow in the Center for Technology Innovation, notes that "[w]ith a disproportionate number of school-age children lacking home broadband access, the breadth of the U.S. digital divide has been revealed [by the pandemic] as schools struggle to substitute in-school resources with online instruction, electronic libraries, streaming videos, and other online tutorials."

Philanthropy

More than 200 (and counting) foundations — private, community, and public — have signed a pledge spearheaded by the Ford Foundation in partnership with the Council on Foundations to take urgent action "over the days, weeks, and months ahead" to help people and communities hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19, including loosening or eliminating restrictions on current grants; reducing reporting requirements, site visits, and other demands; contributing to community-based emergency response funds and other efforts to address the health and economic impact on those most affected; communicating proactively and regularly about decision-making and response efforts; and committing to listening to  partners and, especially, to those communities whose voices are least heard.

Foundations and other endowed institutions tend to be quite protective of their corpora, thinking that they need to be saved for a rainy day. Nonprofit AF's Vu Le has a message for those institutions: This is your rainy day.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Justin Steele, Director, Google.org Americas

February 24, 2020

Growing up, Justin Steele was "a sensitive, brainy kid" who spent a lot of time thinking about what he could do to improve people's lives. After earning an engineering degree from the University of Virginia, he received a master's in urban social policy and nonprofit management at Harvard and went to work in the nonprofit sector full-time. Since 2014, he has held senior positions with Google.org, where he's taken a lead role in the organization's work on inclusion, education, and economic opportunity.

PND recently spoke with Steele about Google.org, its efforts to develop AI tools for nonprofits, and what it is doing to address homelessness in the Bay Area.

JustinSteelePhilanthropy News Digest: What is Google.org, and how much does it award annually to nonprofits here in the United States and globally?

Justin Steele: Google.org is Google's philanthropic and charitable arm. We support nonprofits that are working to address challenging problems and try to apply scalable data-driven innovations in support of those efforts. What's unique about Google.org is that we were established when the company went public with a commitment of 1 percent of its equity and an ongoing commitment of 1 percent of its net profit for charity. Google.org is the biggest beneficiary of that 1 percent ongoing net-profit commitment, and we currently award more than $300 million in cash grants to nonprofits globally each year, roughly split 50/50 between the U.S. and internationally.

PND: Can any nonprofit apply for a grant?

JS: We are predominantly invite-only in our philanthropy, but we do have a model called the Impact Challenge where we invite nonprofits to participate by sending us their ideas. Sometimes the challenge is topic-based, sometimes it's based on geography.

In the U.S., we are currently running Impact Challenges in a number of geographies. We have a $10 million Impact Challenge open in the Bay Area and $1 million challenges open in Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio. A panel of local experts who have influence in the states where the challenge is occurring help us narrow down the candidates. The panel chooses the finalists who receive funding, but we also open it up to a public vote. The People's Choice winners get extra funding at the end.

The state-level Impact Challenges change from year to year, although this is the third time we've run a challenge in the Bay Area, which is where we’re headquartered. Last year, we ran challenges in Illinois, Nevada, and Colorado, and we expect to launch new challenges in other states in 2020.

We also opened up the AI Impact Challenge globally in 2018 and 2019 for organizations that are working on interesting applications of artificial intelligence for social good.

Continue reading »

50 Years of Southern Philanthropy

February 11, 2020

In November, I had the pleasure of speaking at SECF50, the 50th annual meeting of the Southeastern Council of Foundations. Using Candid data, I compared philanthropy in the South fifty years ago to philanthropy in the region today. Here are some of the key points I shared with the SECF50 audience.

Philanthropy has grown tenfold

Fig1.1_secf-growth

To put these findings together, I had the distinct, old-fashioned pleasure of turning to one of our earliest editions of the Foundation Directory (published in 1971), an actual book, to research the state of institutional philanthropy in the South at the time of SECF's founding. Information was a lot sketchier back then and we had to collect everything by hand, so our totals in 1969 are probably not as accurate as those we have today. Still, I believe it's safe to say philanthropy in the South has grown tenfold after inflation.

Back in 1969, only three states in the 11-state Southeastern region had more than 75 foundations of any size (Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida), and no state had more than 107. Now, there are more than 18,000 foundations across the region, and more than half are located in just two states: Florida (6,452) and North Carolina (3,139).

Asset distribution has changed

Fig.1.2_secf-assets-by-state-800w

In 1969, two-thirds of the region’s philanthropic assets were concentrated in Georgia and North Carolina (40 percent and 26 percent, respectively). Since then, assets have grown tremendously in Arkansas, Florida, and Virginia, changing the picture quite a bit. Arkansas held 1 percent of the region's assets in 1969; it now holds 7 percent. Florida went from 8 percent to 29 percent. And Virginia increased from 6 percent to 10 percent.

Continue reading »

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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